How to meet online retail customer expectations in 2018

By Sandrine Lagrost

Growing customer appetite for multichannel shopping has indisputably transformed the landscape for retailers. Over the last two decades, we have witnessed an evolution – from 2000 when shoppers primarily relied on bricks-and-mortar shops on the high-street to 2018 when we see shoppers looking to purchase everything from fashion, to electronics to furniture online.

Whilst this transformation has introduced a myriad of challenges for retailers, there is an undeniable opportunity for those who are able to recognise and adapt to shoppers’ fast-evolving requirements.

This article will explain the latest opportunities for online retailers, and what shoppers expect of them these days.

The scale of the opportunity

In Western Europe alone, ecommerce is predicted to increase from just over $300bn in 2017 to $450bn by 2021. Meanwhile, mobile commerce is on an even sharper growth trajectory. It is due to grow from $92bn in 2017 to over $150bn by 2021 [eMarketer, June 2017].

Computer with growth chart

To better understand the shopper behaviours driving this growth, UPS surveys over 20,000 online shoppers from Europe, Asia and the Americas on their shopping behaviours, preferences, expectations and pain points every year.

The research, titled The Pulse of the Online Shopper, enables UPS to track evolving trends and advise our customers on how to respond to new preferences and requirements.

This year’s research reveals that shoppers are increasingly open to shopping internationally. The findings show that more than ever before, shoppers are motivated by tracking down specific products and will look to buy from a retailer overseas if it has what they need. This presents an important and exciting opportunity for UK’s businesses to boost their sales by tapping into lucrative, overseas markets.

Meet your new customers

One such market is the US: where nearly half (47%) of all online shoppers buy from overseas – a percentage which increases every year.

However, in order to truly capitalise on US shoppers’ growing appetite for international shopping, retailers need to understand their new customers and adapt to their unique priorities and preferences.

In the US, shoppers focus on a number of specific factors when deciding whether to make an international purchase.

Firstly, shoppers want to make sure there are no hidden costs: so, retailers are more likely to convert a sale if they are transparent about the duties and shipping fees that will be applied to any overseas transactions. Businesses daunted by the prospect of navigating international customs for the first time should work closely with their logistics provider to determine the costs they – and their customers – will face so they can be up front with shoppers from the start.

Secondly, US shoppers like to browse and buy in their own currency. In fact, 76% of shoppers are more likely to buy if prices are listed in dollars rather than sterling – and are not subject to fluctuations in currency values.

Two men speaking

Thirdly, when buying from overseas markets, three quarters of US shoppers look for reputable and trustworthy retailers. Whilst this may sound like it is skewing the playing field in favour of larger brands,  with a global presence, it need not be a barrier for smaller companies. If your business is not well-known overseas, you can consider including reviews on your website, or partnering with a familiar marketplace or payment provider that US shoppers will recognise.

Fourthly, US shoppers, like many shoppers from around the world, prioritise a clear returns policy – looking for retailers that allow them to conveniently and cheaply send back any unwanted items. Make sure you have your returns policy detailed on your website and consider including a returns label when you send the shopper their purchase.

Finally, they want to receive their items quickly so will review and consider the delivery speed before they make a final decision. Partner with a logistics company that offers a breadth of options – from express or next day delivery to longer lead-times to ensure your customers can choose what works best for them.

Consider the customer journey

Long road with traveller

It’s clear that the US presents an exciting – and potentially rewarding – opportunity for retailers. For businesses looking to transform their website into a sought-after shopping destination for US customers, we would advise carefully and thoroughly mapping out the customer’s journey, ensuring that any potential pain-points or deterrents are eliminated.

Businesses should review every step – starting with how potential customers find the website and considering whether SEO or a more targeted social media presence will help attract new US browsers.

Then moving onto selecting an item – is the website easy to navigate, are prices clearly stated in both dollars and pounds, and do they factor in shipping, customs and duties?

When customers decide to buy, is it simple for them to check out, what payment methods are offered, will they feel secure, and can they choose from a range of shipping options? Finally, when the item is shipped, can the shopper track its delivery online and is it simple and convenient to return any unwanted purchases?

Getting started

For British retailers, opportunity is knocking. While navigating international sales, including overseas deliveries and returns, customs and currency conversions may seem daunting, there is a wealth of resources available to help businesses get started and ensure they are on the front foot from day one.

A good place to start is by searching online. Government bodies, trade organisations and experts provide a lot of useful information for free on their websites. A good example is the Department for International Trade website which hosts tips and tools to help businesses get started. You can also check out these useful tools which can help you export to 150 markets around the world.

Alternatively, you can get to know the market first hand. Governments and industry groups organise different kinds of trade missions, which provide an excellent opportunity for business owners to explore a potential market. They often include ‘meet and greets’ with potential trade partners, as well as the opportunity to connect with local businesses, and the possibility to speak with their peers about similar experiences and assess.

With so much potential on offer when it comes to international ecommerce, there is clearly much to ponder. In other words, the stage is now set. All that’s left for British retailers to do is decide how and when they step onto it.


By: Sandrine Lagrost, Retail Segment Marketing Manager, UPS

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